If I've learned one thing as a personal trainer it's that working out is the easy part of getting fit. The hard part is wrapping your life and your brain around the new habits you'll need to sustain life-long fitness.
You may have noticed that I don't promote intense boot camps, "Lose 30 pounds in 8 Weeks" programs or 90-day weight loss challenges. Or any of the other gimmicks, miracle pills or quick fixes that everyone seems to be selling these days. Any of these programs can work in the short term, but they always fail in the long term because they ignore the fact that you already have a life, and you'd like to keep living it, thank you very much.
The real challenge of getting and staying fit over 40 is not choosing the right workout or eating the perfect ratio of fats to carbs to proteins. The real challenge is changing long-held lifestyle habits without completely steamrolling your daily routine. (Remember your job and your kids? They're not just gonna disappear while you weigh and measure every bite you eat and spend an hour a day working out.)
Here are a few tips that can help you stay fit over 40 while still having and enjoying your life.
- Be realistic about your current habits. That two-martini a night habit isn't likely to just magically switch off because you know you should. But maybe over the course of a few weeks it can gradually shift from two martinis to a single glass of wine. Don't expect to give up all your vices; just work to make each one a little bit healthier, and then a little bit healthier again.
- Pay attention to how you feel. Stop exercising while it still feels good. Listen when your body tells you it needs more sleep. Pay attention to how food and exercise influence your mood. Your body knows best, but we've become really skilled at ignoring what it's telling us.
- Spend as much time planning as doing. It's not just the workouts and diets that derail people. It's the extra load of sweaty laundry, remembering to bring your sneakers to work, planning ahead for snacks on busy days, grocery shopping for healthy stuff, having a plan B for when your best intentions go awry.
- Get help. And don't be afraid to be creative or sneaky about it. Ask your boss if you can schedule walking meetings or a weekly yoga class as an employee perk. Get your kids to help pre-portion your healthy snacks. Ask your husband to haul his behind off the couch and take a bike ride with you. (OK, that's not realistic. Maybe ask your husband to buy you a gift certificate for a personal trainer.) You get the idea. Find little ways people in your life can support you, and then ask.
- Expect ripples. Every change you make is like a small pebble dropped in a pond. A ring of ripples grows out of the initial splash. Don't believe me? Try adding a thirty minute workout in the morning before work. Now you don't have time to make breakfast for your kids. And what about your own breakfast: before or after you workout? Or maybe you get up earlier, but then you're sleepy at work all day and a tiny bit cranky, too. Or you could go to bed earlier, but then you're trying to sleep while your husband is still watching TV. It all seems so simple until you think and work through all the little ripples that each small change creates.
- Make really small changes one at a time. Knowing that every change you make will cause a cascade of other changes, start small, and give your life time to adjust before you add more changes. I generally recommend that you choose one new habit that you're going to commit to for 90 days (say bringing your lunch to work). If you are successful for the first 30 days, go ahead and add a second new habit (but keep tracking the first one for the full 90 days). If you can't sustain a new habit for 30 days, reassess and look for a smaller change that would be easier to manage.
- Give yourself a MUCH longer timeline than you think you'll need. Remember that the only deadline that matters is that last one (you know the big one with the coffin attached). As long as you are constantly moving in the direction of your goal rather than standing still, you're better off than you were yesterday. Instead of setting an idealistic goal, set your goals with your whole life in mind, and give yourself credit for every step you take in the right direction.
Staying fit over 40 is not impossible. In fact, it can be very easy if you give yourself the time and space to make lifestyle changes that truly fit within your life and are sustainable for the long run.
(Image credit: 123rf stock photo)